Frances Thompson discusses how to successfully mainstream telecare to transform service delivery and provide more preventive and personalised care for people of all ages and abilities

Wakefield’s telecare service has demonstrated great success and is now a mainstream service, integrated into our assessment process.

Our comprehensive, three-year evaluation spanning 2007-10 aimed to consider how successful telecare has been in supporting a wide number of people covering all ages and abilities. It also looked at how telecare is promoting independence and wellbeing and deferring admittance to hospital or residential care while providing cost-effective care and support. 

Outcomes have been supported by the results from the Whole System Demonstrator programme, and the government’s commitment to supporting the 3millionlives initiative, which aims to transform the lives of three million people with long-term conditions or social care needs by utilising telehealth and telecare within health and social care services.

‘The efficiency outcome was determined on the prevention of service users entering residential care and the resulting net cost saving was £863,371 per year’

We have provided positive outcomes for individuals, but also significant financial savings, after only six months of telecare support. We conducted an assessment of 135 participants (all ages and abilities) using telecare, and calculated net savings of £1,325,753 over the six-month period, which is based on the cost of the current care-plans, deducted from the allowable residential care admission costs.

Alongside the management of adults and older people, telecare has also had a positive impact on the support of people with learning disabilities. An evaluation was carried out on a random selection of 68 people from adults, older people and learning disabilities.

The efficiency outcome was determined on the prevention of service users entering residential care and the resulting net cost saving was £863,371 per year, with an average saving per person amounting to £12,696 per year.

Success has been based on the key components of personalisation, prevention and independence.

Personalisation is key

From the start of our telecare project we embraced partnership working, collaborating with Wakefield District Housing, Care Link Call Centre, Northern Housing Consortium, Barnados, Carers Wakefield District, Kids (WeSail), South West Yorkshire Partnership Foundation Trust, commissioned care providers, Tunstall and other key stakeholders providing equipment.

True personalisation requires the integration of all services around the individual to ensure that assistance is targeted and there is an economy of effort in their delivery.  An integrated telecare model reduces the risks for those living at home, ensures a prompt and appropriate response to emergencies and delays unnecessary admissions to residential or nursing care. 

Our evaluation has demonstrated that telecare can help people maintain independence, delay or even eliminate the need for residential care. It is important to note however, that telecare is not a replacement for human care: rather, it should be regarded as a supplement to help restore independence and dignity that may otherwise be lost, while providing a great deal of support and reassurance for family and carers and to ensure that services are tailored to individual need.

Prevention is better than cure

In line with Wakefield’s Commissioning for Transformation, telecare can provide preventative support to ensure problems are detected and addressed early on.

In Wakefield, telecare enabled a reduction of over 12,200 hours in deferred residential admissions, (based on 135 users). Coupled with the considerably higher number of over 65s referred (over 65s account for 85 per cent of all referrals received as at December 2010), it is clear that telecare has enabled people to remain living in their homes for longer.

We also discovered the highest number of referrals were for those at high risk of falls, with over 275 referrals, which is comparatively high considering the list of 32 primary reasons had an average of 50 referrals. Each resident considered to be at high risk of falling was provided with a person-centred package of care integrated with telecare, which could include a community alarm and pendant, fall detector and bed sensor.

In addition, a response service was developed jointly between WDH Care Link Call Centre and Wakefield Family Services. The responders are available to respond 24 hours seven days a week to help people in their own homes who may have fallen, for example, and to reduce to number of calls to 999 ambulance service. 

This service helps to reduce the number of people who are taken to hospital unnecessarily, gives families and service users peace of mind and gives the older people the confidence to remain in their own homes.

Complex needs

The innovative use of telecare has enabled us to broaden the scope of assistive technology, supporting more people including those with learning and physical disabilities, as well as children with complex needs, young carers and the voluntary sector.

By embracing the flexible nature of telecare among other projects, Wakefield has been able to develop two self-contained properties to support those with a wide range of learning disabilities and reduce night support by providing a telecare package suited to individual residents’ needs.

Each flat was provided with a community alarm and pendant and any other telecare equipment, tailored to meet their needs. The importance being that all residents have a feeling of being safe and able to contact support immediately if necessary. 

The resident is able to speak with a support worker via their mobile Dect handset, which is carried with them at all times.  This system also reduces the need for waking staff, as an alert to wake the sleep-in staff has been installed.

To successfully integrate and mainstream telecare, there needs to be adequate training and assessment for all staff involved in the implementation to deliver a sustainable and deliverable telecare service. By using an effective assessment process, you can improve the lives and well-being of people with long-term conditions and social care needs.

We focus on the discreet nature of the technology, as it is so important not to allow telecare to be intrusive for the individual. We use a Smart House facility to assist with induction and awareness for all professional staff, carers and service users. This is also provided as a resource to people beyond the Wakefield boundary.

Timely hospital discharge

Building on the existing work on timely hospital discharge in Wakefield, our evaluation demonstrates that over 2,600 referrals were received from 2007-2010 from a variety of sources.

25 per cent came from the hospital discharge and social work teams at the hospital, helping the timely discharge of patients back home. The aim was to speed up recovery, facilitate re-learning of essential day-to-day personal care skills and re-build self confidence in the ability to look after his or her self.

Telecare supports this process by managing risks and offering cost effective, ongoing support through the reablement period.

Our service has demonstrated how telecare facilitates greater independence for carers, in particular young carers, who feel safe in the knowledge that, if they ever need help, 24-hour responders are on hand to attend around the clock. The service has also been instrumental in ensuring families with young carers have the practical and emotional support needed to stay together as a unit, avoiding additional care costs and relieving some of the stresses associated with being a carer.

A large number of families struggle to remain together when they have a child with complex needs but by using telecare effectively, families can have minimal intervention with maximum security, ensuring the risks at home are reduced and that there is peace of mind for parents.

Future of telecare

There is no doubt that telecare technology has huge potential to make big changes in the way care is provided in the UK. It is proving to be an excellent tool for giving greater independence to service users, especially those with learning disabilities, and our success has demonstrated that in addition to service users themselves, there is a positive impact on the lives of carers as well, who find they too have gained independence.

We need to continue to achieve successful joint working with health and social care teams to consider all aspects of telecare and telehealth to achieve independence and better outcomes for people.

By focusing on people with long term conditions, dementia and complex needs, we recognise the need to look at more innovative solutions for people that include telecare and telehealth.

It’s not just about saving money in social care but also for the health economy. This can only be done by providing integrated solutions for people and looking at more innovative and economic support packages for all users.

The economic benefits are significant and evident of a comprehensive and sustainable approach to service delivery in Wakefield, which is vital in supporting the prevention and health and wellbeing agendas. The cost efficiencies are crucial when considering the future of telecare and, with significant cost savings made over a relatively short period; the potential for future investments is a significant factor for the continuing delivery of excellent services.

Frances Thompson is assistive technology development manager at Wakefield Council